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QS moves to rank “student cities” world-wide

QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) has released a ranking of “best student cities” in 2012, after introducing just last year its new university rankings for Latin America and tuition fee information for its world university rankings (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, October 2011). The ranking of student cities is based on the assumption that the student experience plays a decisive role in the choice of study destination by international students. It also assumes that cities—as opposed to suburban or rural settings—are more likely to provide students with a good experience. The cities ranked by QS in this particular exercise are limited to those urban areas both with a population of over 250 000 and having at least two institutions that already appear on QS’s own rankings. Smaller university towns and those which host only one QS-ranked higher education institution are therefore excluded, regardless of the quality of study experience they may offer students. QS claims that this is the first ranking of cities that is “tailored to the needs and priorities of students”. Twelve indicators (based on QS’s own rankings or existing indices and data) are categorised to reflect the performance of higher education institutions, the international student mix, quality of life, employer activity and affordability of a city.  Moreover, given the international orientation of the ranking, indicators of tuition fees and popularity of the graduates among international employers hold additional weight. The indicators and the ranking methodology appear to clearly address what the ranking promises to deliver: a guide to international students who value overall student experience more than simply the prestige of universities. However, there may be some worrisome holes in QS’s approach. For example, the use of existing indicators for student expenses may not accurately reflect the availability of subsidised services tailored for students (such as student housing and university canteens). Failing to take into account this kind of information may undermine the ranking outcomes for ostensibly ‘high cost’ cities.  The data sources for tuition fees and the international student mix have also not been clearly stated in the ranking methodology. The inclusion of MBA tuition fees, for example, could heavily skew the average of such fees. Finally, it should also be noted that the percentage of international students alone does not necessarily indicate a good “mix” of international students. QS Best Student Cities in the World 2012